The new Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts showcases works by students, professors and guest artists, but an area behind the building is an artful solution to an urban problem. A narrow trough, called a bioswale, between the rear of the building and the parking lot uses several layers of absorbent materials to prevent flooding in the area.

The feature helps raise the low absorbency rate typical for urban areas. In rural areas nearly 50 percent of stormwater is absorbed through the ground, but the rate is only 15 percent in urban areas. 

"Stormwater from developed areas is the second highest source of surface, or drinking, water pollution in the United States," said Julie Price, UAB sustainability coordinator. "Essentially we put water straight from a parking lot into a river instead of letting it move through the ground."

Price said the expanse of impervious surfaces such as roads, parking lots and rooftops contribute to the rush of runoff that enters the stormwater system in urban areas.

“Birmingham and other urban areas in the United States have aging stormwater systems that are often overburdened during periods of heavy rainfall,” Price said. “These underground conveyance systems are massive, complex and expensive to construct and maintain.

Read more at the UAB Reporter...